- Purchase/rental options available:
In October of 1927, fourteen men were assassinated by federal soldiers by the side of a highway outside of Mexico City. Among them was Francisco R. Serrano, a prominent general running for president in opposition to the re-election of former president Alvaro Obregón. Serrano and other anti-reelectionists regarded Obregón's potential return to power to be an unacceptable violation of the Mexican revolutionary prohibition against presidential reelection; they also feared a return to the personalist politics of the pre-revolutionary period. The government's justification for the killing of political dissidents, in what is now remembered as the Huitzilac Massacre, was that the anti-reelectionists were in open rebellion against the government, and that their executions were both just and necessary. Yet the victims had not been tried or convicted of any crime, nor were their assassins. Eight years later, at a moment of momentous political transition in Mexico, the federal government itself impelled the army to investigate the massacre for the first time. This article is based on the military's records of its yearlong investigation of 1937–8, which were briefly made available to the public for the first time in 2010. It demonstrates that the reformist government of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40) turned the massacre from a political liability into a valuable asset, as the investigation of the killings became a powerful symbol of his government's broader, public repudiation of intra-elite and state-sponsored violence in Mexico's recent past. It argues that the Cardenistas' explicit turn away from political violence was an essential part of an ongoing process of postrevolutionary political consolidation, but that the Huitzilac case also ultimately set a precedent of effective criminal impunity for agents of state-sponsored violence, including members of the military, thus further complicating the history of Mexico's postrevolutionary demilitarization of politics.